Word Count: 4,740
This is written for LJ community heroes50, Prompt #20-Work
He walked in, the same time as he usually did. She looked forward to these visits, even if they were too short and it made her miss him more every time.
"Hi, I'll be right with you," Claire said from behind the counter. She was just finishing up some side work.
They'd argued about her getting a job, an argument she eventually won. She didn't ask questions, but somehow he and Nathan had managed for her to skip her senior year of high school. She'd be starting at the local community college for winter semester, and since she lived on her own a job was necessary. They thought she was safer this way.
"Hi," he said, gracing her with his brightest smile. The one reserved just for her, his princess, his Claire-bear. "How are you today?"
"I'm doing good. You?"
"Good." She hated having to talk to him as if she barely knew him, nothing more than a steady customer that she saw once or twice a week.
"What's good today?"
"Well, considering you never get anything but pie…"
"How about a piece of blueberry? It looks fresh."
She shrugged. She wouldn't know a fresh blueberry if it looked her in the face, but she knew the pies here were all good.
"Sure, be right back," she said after pouring him a cup of coffee. He turned his attention to the newspaper he always brought with him when he stopped in. This was the only time he ever took time for himself and relaxed. Except he never totally relaxed, always looking over his shoulder, worried that someone would find him. And by finding him, her.
"You sure have a loyal customer. I tried one day when your section was full to seat him somewhere else and he wouldn't have any of it," Claire's co-worker, and sort of friend, Monica said.
"Yeah, he seems real nice," Claire said, brushing her caramel colored hair away from her face before reaching into the display case to find the best piece of pie for him. The hair color was his idea, not that she looked very different. Different enough, she supposed someone just passing through wouldn't look twice at her.
Nathan had agreed that she was safest tucked away as she was now. As it turned out there was some doubt on whether Sylar was actually dead. Responders to the scene had been so busy tending to the survivors, like a badly down Officer Parkman that no one noticed Sylar's body was unaccounted for until later.
A little over two months had gone by since the election. Nathan was taking to his new job as Congressman quite well. She watched the news whenever he gave press conferences, bursting a bit with pride that she knew him. Knew him well enough to know he had secrets. He'd never be her father, but she'd gained a lot of respect for him when he'd come through. Just as Peter said he would. She figured if Peter liked him so well, maybe she could give him a chance.
A little over two months since she'd snuck out of The Haitian's bedroom, using the servants stairs to get up to her room hoping to avoid passing anyone. A little over two months since she'd left the Petrelli mansion with barely a glance at it over her shoulder. A little over two months since she'd kept the shirt he'd given her that night. She slept with it under her pillow, putting it on occasionally when she was feeling particularly lonesome. And needy.
A scoop of ice cream added to the warmed piece of pie and her dad's dessert was ready. She brought it to his table where he quickly set the newspaper aside.
"Here you go," she said, setting it down. "Can I get you anything else?"
"Do you have a break coming?"
"Yeah," she glanced at Monica. "I'm going to take five okay?"
"Sure, honey, y'all go ahead."
"Thank you," Claire said, sitting across from him. It was strange to sit with him like this. It seemed so natural, normal and yet no one could know they knew one another.
"You're looking well."
"Thanks. You, too."
"I miss you, honey. I'm sorry it has to be this way."
"I get it."
She bit her lower lip, wondering if she should ask the question on her mind lately. If her father suspected where she'd spent that night he'd never said. She knew that Angela was aware her bed had not been slept in. That didn't necessarily mean she was down on the other side of the house having sex with a man her grandmother would probably freak over Claire being with.
She regarded her dad, wondering what he'd think. He liked the Haitian, but she wasn't sure if that like extended beyond work.
"This is really good pie."
"I'll let Sally know. She always takes your compliments."
"She deserves them." He takes another bite, regarding her. She sat in the chair opposite him, fidgeting with her hands in her lap. "What's on your mind, Amanda?"
"You can't lie to me."
She took a deep breath. "It's nothing."
He sets his fork on the dessert plate, taking a slow sip of his coffee. She could tell it'd cooled off some and had to fight the urge to grab the pot to top it off it.
"If you're sure."
"Positive. I just miss you two. Lyle, too."
"I know, us, too." He glanced behind her, she knew Monica was back there probably watching.
"That's all. I love seeing you, I just wish it didn't have to be like this."
"Always," she whispered.
"Monica there let it slip one day that there's a young man that might be sweet on you." He blotted his lips with the paper napkin, settling it back in his lap as she stood.
"Not really. I don't think so, I don't know," she shrugged. That really wasn't a possibility anyway. "You talk to Monica now?"
"You were off one day, registering for classes I think she said. And if you say so. It wouldn't hurt to try, make this life more liveable."
"The last boy I tried with didn't turn out too well. Remember?"
"That was then. This is now. You're not that girl anymore. You're making enough money here?"
"Yes," she said with a roll of her eyes. He and Nathan both saw to it that this job wasn't her means of survival.
"Anyway, you'd best get back to work. I don't want to get you in trouble."
"You're welcome. I'd do anything for you."
"I know," she said a little sadly.
Part of doing anything for her was keeping her safe, which meant breaking his promise of being together as a family again. Here she was, tucked away, those who cared about her hoping she'd stay that way. She couldn't even keep pictures of them. She had some fake pictures in her apartment, the family she was supposed to have. Strangers that she'd assigned a life story to. She was Amanda Pierce, youngest of six, which was the reason for going to community college. It was one of the only community colleges around that offered Bachelor's Degrees. "I'll get you some more coffee."
"Thanks, but I'm good. I need to cut this stop short today. My son has a basketball game." Basketball? Lyle was playing basketball? That was unexpected. "You always give me such good service when I come in here. That's why I won't stand for anyone else to wait on me."
Her lips quivered into a full-fledged smile then. "Thank you."
She returned to the counter, returning with his ticket. She felt terrible charging him, but she didn't have much choice.
"He always looks so sad when it's time to leave," Monica said.
"You think so?" Claire asked. She hadn't really noticed that, but she might be too close to see it.
"Yeah. Like someone kicked his puppy sad. If I didn't know better I'd say he's sweet on you."
Claire laughed at that. "No. He's just a nice man. I wish I knew what he did that he stops in here, I don't think he lives here in town." She watched as her father finished his coffee and reached for his wallet. He'd leave enough for the bill and a generous tip. He always did. If she asked, he'd probably tell her it was an allowance.
Monica laughed, a throaty laugh. It was a nice sound. Monica was older than Claire by fifteen years and had a zest for living Claire hoped to get back. She was only seventeen after all.
"Maybe he's not, but I know someone who is," Monica whispered, elbowing Claire's side lightly. She couldn't help but look where Monica was gesturing.
"I don't even know him!" He was kind of cute in a Kenny Chesney kind of way. Only thing was she'd discovered that Kenny Chesney just wasn't her type.
"I do. His name's Billy Kingston and his father owns a big ranch a ways out of town. That shiny new pickup out there," she said, gesturing to the brand new Ford pickup parked in the space in front of the door. Well, off to the side really, because the handicapped spaces were right in front of the door. It was a nice pickup. Too nice. Even wearing casual jeans and flannel shirt he exuded money. Way out of Claire's league. Well, Claire Bennet and Amanda Pierce's anyway. Claire Petrelli, had she the opportunity to be that person maybe not.
"Yeah, and he's going to go for a girl like me?"
"A beautiful girl who's smart you mean? Hard working? Working her way through college?" She waved at Billy. "You can take a seat any ol' place you want, Billy. Amanda's section is wide open."
Claire grimaced. "Monica. Don't you want any customers today?"
"I'll just take part of his tip, and details if he finally asks you out."
"Honey, he's been wanting to for weeks now, but you hardly give him a second glance."
"Monica, I already told you I'm kind of involved with someone." That was a stretch, but it saved her from the hassle of guys asking her out. It was her and Monica on dayshift, so the young guys were hot for Claire when she'd first started the job here.
She'd only been in town for about six weeks, this job for five. Her dad and Nathan had carefully chosen where she'd go. She still wasn't exactly sure why they'd chosen Midland. Hiding her out in the open, she supposed. More probably, just her father not willing to let her be too far away even if she couldn't live with them. Nathan would have given in, wanting one of them to be able to keep tabs on her no matter how distantly.
He didn't know her phone number, didn't know where she lived, didn't even know which car she owned because she'd traded hers in as soon as she got here. He knew only that her name here was Amanda. No last name. The less information he had the better, because he'd be the one they'd go after for information. She had an email address that he knew and used, reserved for emergencies.
She kept a bag stashed in the supply room with clothes, money, a new ID, and keys to a decrepit looking vehicle on the used car lot next to the diner. The owner let her store it there since the car she'd traded for it had been worth more than it was.
She was set to be gone in a flash if anyone found her. Monica saw it once and Claire had given a heart-wrenching story about an abusive daddy who was very probably looking for her. Claire had gained a mother figure in Monica that day.
"Well, sort of ain't definite. I haven't seen anyone come around these parts lookin' for ya leastways but the old man. You say it ain't him, which I wouldn't blame you he is a handsome man. A little old for you and a bit stuffy, but I bet underneath that he'd really cut a rug."
"Eww," Claire said quickly. That was her father Monica was talking about!
"Best go help your customer. I'll finish filling the sugar caddies for ya."
"Thanks," Claire said, murmuring a few other things under her breath as she made her way to Billy's table. "Hi. Can I get you something to drink?"
"Uh, sure," Billy said. Claire felt his eyes on her instead of the menu and looked up from her pad of order tickets. "Amanda right?"
"Yeah," she said softly. That was kind of obvious, since her name tag said so.
"I'll have some tea."
"All right, did you need a few minutes to look at the menu then?"
"Sure, I'm not sure what I'm hungry for today."
"All right, I'll be back in a minute with your tea." There was no sense asking him what kind of tea he wanted. Around these parts it was iced, sweetened. Someone might go against the norm and ask for lemon, but he hadn't.
"Here you go," she said, setting the tea on a paper coaster on the table, setting a straw beside it. "Have you decided yet?"
Her eyes moved to the door when the bells jingled, indicating another customer had come in. Her heart skipped a beat and she broke out into the widest smile she'd given in two months now. She almost dropped her tray, thinking she was seeing things. She wasn't entirely sure that she wasn't, because he had the girl, Molly, from that night with him. This had to be her imagination.
"See, I told you she'd be here," Molly said.
Breaking the trance like spell he'd cast over her by walking back into her life after a two month absence, she returned her attention to her customer. Billy was a good tipper, but she wondered now if that was because he liked her and not because he was a generous man.
"I'm sorry," she said. "Could you repeat that?"
"Just a BLT on wheat with extra mayo. Extra crisp on the fries and pickles instead of slaw."
"All right. Got it," she said, writing it all down, though it was easy enough to remember. "I'll bring it right out."
She turned from the table, about to go talk to the Haitian when Billy called her back.
"Yes," she said, pulling her pen out from behind her ear, assuming he'd forgotten something.
"You know, there's a party tonight."
"No, I don't. I'm new here."
"Yeah, I know," he smiled. It was a practiced smile. One he probably used to make girls around town go weak in the knees. Brody had a smile like that. She was keen on that sort of thing now. "Well, you know now."
"If you'd like to go, I could pick you up. I see you walking everywhere."
Her eyes flicked to the Haitian who was watching her, looking amused and, if she wasn't mistaken, more than a bit jealous. She was tempted to say yes just to see what he'd do, but she didn't want to do that to Billy. No sense getting a reputation as being a tease.
"That's real sweet of you, Billy, thank you, but I already have plans tonight."
"Oh, my fault waiting to the last minute I guess. Another time maybe."
"Sure, sounds fun," she said, trying to be polite. "I'll go put your food order in." She did just that, taking the extra time to collect herself. And get her mind wrapped around the fact he was here. Monica was busy wiping down tables and the Haitian chose a dirty one, smack dab next to Billy's. "This is going to be fun," she whispered.
"Hello, Amanda," he said. It sounded so weird hearing him say this name. She loved the way he said her real name, wished for anything he could say it now.
Molly leaned toward him and whispered in his ear.
"You're right," he said with a nod. "Molly has pointed out that I've neglected to comment on the attractiveness of your hair."
She ran her fingertips over the few loose ends that had fallen out of her cap and ponytail, framing her face. "You like it?"
"I do," Molly said brightly.
"Thank you, Molly."
"You're welcome, Amanda," she said and then covered her mouth, quieting a giggle.
So, why was she with him? Why would he come see her with a child along? That couldn't bode well, and she was suddenly rethinking the whole kind of involved thing she'd been saying for the last two months. Why was he here at all? No contact, no nothing for two months and then he walks in. His smile told her he knew very well what she was probably thinking.
All right, he probably didn't know where she was or how to contact her. That only confused her more. For all she knew, he wasn't here to see her at all. This could be a coincidence. Not likely, but it was possible.
So, what did you say to someone you hadn't seen for two months? Couple that with the fact the last time she saw him they hadn't done much talking and he had a young girl with him.
"Can I get you something to drink?" She resorted to the one safe haven a waitress had, talk about food and the things that paid her measly barely three dollar an hour job.
"Can I have a cherry Coke?"
"Sure, I can make you one," Claire offered.
"Really? You have to make it? Like homemade?"
"Yes, it's much better than the kind you get in a can at the store."
Molly seemed to think this over for a minute. "I'll try it."
"I'll make the best one I can for you. And for you?"
"Pretending you don't know me isn't going to work."
"I'm not pretending anything. I'm working and you're here while I'm working, so I'm doing my job. I just had a break not too long ago when a regular customer of mine was here."
"I'll have a coffee. Black."
"All right, I'll be back with your drinks. Menus are right there," she said, pointing at the section of the table that housed the salt and pepper shakers, sugar caddy, ketchup, napkin holder, and the mentioned menus.
"What's a matter, sweetie. You look like you've seen a ghost."
"Nothing, I'm fine," Claire said, hoping Monica was not as good as her father on picking up on her lies.
By the time she got the cherry Coke and coffee together, Billy's food was up. Putting it all on a tray, and then remembering Billy had asked for extra mayonnaise.
"Doug, can I get a side of mayo, please?"
"Sure thing, Amanda," the cook said, sliding a small bowl of it through the window dividing his kitchen from the eating area.
"You bet. One of these days."
"One of these days, what?"
"I'm going to hear you forget to say please and thank you."
"Not likely, but you can keep listening for it."
He beamed and gave her a light laugh.
"I'll give you something to listen for."
"Doug," she said with a laugh. She liked Doug and everything, just not that way. He seemed to feel the same way, which was why they got along so well. Her tray all set she walked back to the tables. She gave Billy his food first and then the Haitian and Molly their drinks.
"Can I get you anything else, Billy?" She noticed he was still good with his tea.
"No, thanks," he said.
"All right, just let me know if you change your mind, but I'll check back in a bit."
"Have you two decided?"
"We're not real hungry, Amanda. We came to see you," the Haitian said.
"Oh," she said, pen poised at the order ticket pad, ready to write. She noticed her hand shook a little.
"What time are you done?"
She glanced at the clock behind the counter. Was it possible she was only here for another twenty minutes?
"Then Molly will have a sundae and we will wait for you."
"I shouldn't. I mean, we shouldn't."
"It's all right. I promise you."
"Yeah, Amanda, please."
"All right. I'll get your sundae."
"And then you'll come with us?"
"I told you she would."
"You had more faith than I did, Molly. I will not doubt you again."
She giggled again. Claire remembered that age well. The Haitian was a nice looking man, Molly probably hung on every word he said.
"It'll be just a minute on your sundae."
She took one last glance at Billy's table, making sure he was still okay.
The dessert area was off a little from the rest of the prep area, so she could hide here. Taking a deep breath, trying to collect herself. He was here, wanted her to go with him. That doesn't mean anything, Claire. For all you know, he wants you to take Molly for some reason and that's why he brought her along.
"You all right, sweetie. You're looking a little green now."
"I'm fine. I just," she shrugged, peeking around the corner. "That's him."
"Him who?" Monica said, following Claire's gaze.
"The guy I've told you I'm kind of involved with."
"And you're back here hiding from him? What's that all about. He beat on you like your daddy?"
"What?" Claire asked, confused for a moment. "No. I just, I haven't seen him in a couple of months and I really don't know why he's here now. To see me or what."
"Well, of course he's here to see you. Why else would he be here? Who's the kid? Not yours, you're not old enough to have one that age."
"No, not mine. She's a friend."
"Oh, all right."
"Well, she's family, extended. It's hard to explain. She lost both her parents a while ago."
"Oh, sweetie, that's such a shame. You give her that sundae for free. I won't tell anyone, and if we get caught. A little girl that age losing both parents, well, she deserves some ice cream."
"You're welcome. Now, you want me to go talk to your man? Set him straight? Because a pretty girl like you deserves to be shown some love. Months you say?"
"Monica, I'm working."
"Yeah, like Doug and I are going to tattle on you."
Claire rolled her eyes, putting the finishing touches on the sundae for Molly.
"I just wish I knew why he was here."
"Only one way you're going to find out."
Monica handed Claire a fresh glass of iced tea.
"That's what I came over here to give you, noticed he was getting low, figured I'd save you a trip."
"You're welcome." Rounding the corner together, Claire could see Monica taking the Haitian in. Molly, too, but her primary focus was on the Haitian. "He is a handsome fellow. A little intimidating."
"Yeah," Claire agreed. Intimidating was a good way to describe him. Especially today.
She set Billy's new glass of iced tea on his table.
Claire smiled. "You're welcome."
She set Molly's sundae in front of her. "I put a little extra whipped topping on it. Don't tell anyone."
"Are you sure you don't want anything?"
His eyes widened, looking amused actually. "You don't really want me to answer that."
"No, I suppose not."
"Less than twenty minutes now?"
"Yes, I have some things to finish up. Monica was doing some of my side work, but I have a couple things to do yet."
"We're not going anywhere."
"All right." She sensed that was the case, even if she hadn't agreed to go with them. "Here you go, Billy," she said, placing his bill on the table. "Just pay at the counter when you're ready."
"Thanks, Amanda. You sure you don't want to reconsider the party? It's going to be fun. Everyone who's anyone will be there and you'll get to meet some people before you start school in January."
"No, thanks, another time. I really do have plans. Sorry."
"No problem. Just figured I'd try one last time."
She made her way to the back. She really didn't have all that much to do. It had been pretty slow, so she and Monica had gotten through their list of jobs pretty quickly. It was nice to work with someone like Monica. They chipped in and did things together.
"So, why'd he set next to Billy do you suppose?"
"Billy asked me to a party tonight."
"In front of your boyfriend?"
"Well, right when they walked in, yeah. And I really don't know if he's my boyfriend."
"Go ahead and punch out. The way that girl's eating her sundae she'll be done before you know it. It's a nice day, enjoy it with your man and your little friend. Bless her heart."
Claire went to the bathroom then and changed out of her uniform. She always changed here, her uniform wasn't the most stylish thing to be caught in outside of work. A black skirt, a white blouse, a grey cardigan, and a pair of black pumps were her outfit of choice today. She had a set of pearls back at her apartment that she'd yet to wear here. One nice thing about having lived with the Petrelli's, she had a closet full of stylish and designer name clothes.
She hesitated a moment, seeing Billy was still seated at his table. He was almost done eating from the looks of things. He hadn't really asked her out, like on a date out. He asked her to a party. It might have just been a friendly thing, and she hadn't lied to him. It wasn't like she'd said no and was planning on staying home to wash her hair instead.
She threw the small duffle with her work clothes over her shoulder and made her way to the Haitian's table, where Molly was finishing up her cherry Coke. She'd cleaned up on the sundae. She sat down, taking a little pride in the look the Haitian gave her. He seemed to appreciate what she looked like out of her work clothes.
She blushed deeply, knowing he of all people knew what she looked like with the work clothes off.
"You look nice."
"No, that's not what I said."
"We can go whenever you're ready."
"We didn't get a check."
"I paid for it."
"No, that's not right."
"It's my treat. For Molly."
"Thank you, Amanda."
And then he did something that shifted everything in her life off kilter. He slid his hand into hers. She was okay until he touched her. And then she was far from okay. Memories of how his hands felt on her body, touching her, caressing her, bringing her to the stars and back during the part of their night together that had been long and far from urgent.
"You do not wish for me to touch you? Afraid your friend will get jealous?"
"No, that's not it." She left her hand in his. What could she say? That she was afraid he'd feel and see exactly how much she needed him. Wanted him. She hated it, especially now feeling disappointed he'd brought Molly with him. That, of course, meant they weren't going to be alone. He didn't want to be alone with her. She was better off knowing that without a reminder of his touch and what it felt like.
"I'll see you tomorrow, Monica."
"Bye, sweetie, take care now."
"You like her," he said as they stepped outside.
"Yeah, I do. She's nice. She's not that much younger than my birth mother is, and she feels sorry for me I think."
"You do well at this job?"
"Yeah, it's all right. Pays the bills. And cash tips are nice when you're never sure when you're going to have to leave with no notice."
"And the boys who ask you out on dates?"
"Just an added perk."
He smiled and she suspected he knew that not only did she have help in the area of finances, she didn't consider guys asking her out on dates a perk.
Info. on icons used for background:
The non-illustrated icon is courtesy of lay-of-luthien @ LJ. She's got some nice work, and did this and 4 others very quickly! The illustrated icon is courtesy of: julietbunny who gave me this in addition to some other great goodies for the Heroes_Holidays Spring Hiatus project.
Story ©Susan Falk/APCKRFAN/PhantomRoses.com